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FCC Proposes Rules for Floor Level Accuracy of Enhanced 911 Services

On March 15, 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) issued a Press Release and Fourth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in its ongoing effort to standardize both a location accuracy metric for indoor wireless 911 calls and a threshold of what percent of calls must meet this metric, as “the capability to locate wireless 911 callers quickly and accurately is of critical importance” to both consumers and first responders.  The FCC is tentatively proposing a vertical (or “z-axis”) location accuracy metric of plus or minus three meters, or within three meters above or below the phone, and stated that it should apply to 80% of indoor wireless 911 calls. This rule would require nationwide CMRS (Commercial Mobile Radio Service) providers to deploy technology that complies with these metrics in each of the top 25 Cellular Market Areas by April 3, 2021, and the top 50 Cellular Market Areas by April 3, 2023. The FCC is seeking comment on all aspects of its proposal, including the vertical accuracy metric, the call threshold, and whether the 3-meter metric can be achieved prior to its prescribed deadlines.

The FCC stated that its studies indicated that a 3 meter metric would extend the range of location accuracy to one floor above and one floor below the location of the handset, which it stated is “sufficiently accurate to identify the caller’s floor level in most cases.” In doing so, it is seeking further comment on the preferred metric, while stating that a 5-meter metric is not preferable because the range for calls would be two floors above and below, which would “not yield the floor level accuracy that first responder commenters consider necessary.” The FCC is further is seeking comment on how, or whether, it should distinguish between choosing above ground level (AGL) or above mean sea level (MSL) for its measurement baseline. The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council suggested using the AGL, but the FCC left open the possibility that it may not specify use of either metric to give more flexibility to entities to devise a solution.

The FCC also disclosed the results of studies on test calls conducted by NextNav and Polaris while also seeking further comment on the technical feasibility of 3-meter metric and the 80% threshold. The FCC stated that NextNav was able to reach 2-meter vertical accuracy for 80% of its calls, while Polaris was able to achieve 2.8 meter vertical accuracy for 80% of its test calls.  Based on these results, the FCC would like to adopt this 3 meter metric instead of deferring for further testing, but seeks further comment. The FCC also seeks comments on whether the 2021 and 2023 deadlines can be met sooner. The FCC also noted positively the developments of Google’s Emergency Location Service, which is available on “99 percent of Android Devices (version 4.0 and above),” but did not provide any statistics regarding Google’s level of vertical location accuracy or for what threshold of indoor wireless 911 calls from Android devices were covered by this Service.

The FCC also seeks comment on whether there should be limits to the use of this data for 911 calls only, and if such a limitation should be implemented and codified. The FCC also cited data from its Fourth Report and Order, while seeking further comment, on the cost/benefits of a 3-meter metric versus a 2-meter or 5-meter metric. The data was based on a 3-meter metric for 80% of calls, and found that it had the potential to save 10,120 lives annually for an annual benefit of $92 billion, or $291 a wireless subscriber. The Commission believes that a 2-meter metric would only yield “marginal benefits and costs” versus a 3-meter metric, as it would require “developers of z-axis solutions to incur substantial development, testing, and implementation costs, without any guarantee of achieving the 2-meter metric before the deadline,” but nonetheless is seeking comment on the matter.

If you have any questions regarding the information contained in this Advisory, please contact the attorney assigned to your account or Jonathan Marashlian at jsm@commlawgroup.com / 703-714-1313.

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